Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Book Post: I Love Book Clubs

Tourette - Rafał
(Photo credit: MEGATOTAL)
It's getting busy with the LitFest around the corner, interviews here, blogposts there. Here's a LitFest blog post in which I answer the immortal question, "Can you teach someone to be a writer or is it an inherent quality?" among others!

I'm scheduled to talk at a school, moderate a session, participate in a panel and, as usual, sit in looming empty space next to someone like Eoin Colfer as he wrangles a signing line stretching to Ras Al Khaimah.

And, by sheer coincidence, I got invited to a book club meeting. Did I ever before mention I love book clubs? I did? Good. Because I do. Who else would buy things from you, invite you to their house/favourite coffee shop and ply you with hooch/coffee and food/cake whilst spending three hours talking to you about your favourite topics (in my case me and my books) and then thank you for coming?

It's insane.

I  attended a meeting of a book club in the Arabian Ranches last night. Ten members, all women, seemed to think they were a daunting sight, but you'd not have walked into a sea of friendlier faces in most pubs or gatherings.

There was quite a lot of curiosity. Do authors have Tourettes or anything like that? Should you feed them anything special in case they start biting book club members?

We sat around the table outside and chatted, mostly sort of Q&A. Everyone was very curious indeed. What started me writing? What does it take to write a book? How do you know you're any good at it and that sort of thing, but then we also started to look at characters, their motivations and what made them tick. The club had read Olives - A Violent Romance before, so I was expecting recrimination over the dirty thing I do at the start of Beirut - An Explosive Thriller (the book the club has just finished reading) but everyone was very forgiving.

I got a hard time over whether Lynch is sufficiently realistic as an Oirish person, our hostess being a 'Dub' herself and therefore unwilling to let my 'Darby O'Gill' Norn Irish spy go without a spirited attempt at skewering me for getting it wrong. Luckily I had remembered to put a Magdalene Laundry and a paedophile priest into the mix and so managed to avoid being filleted. All you need to craft proper Irish characters are laundries and priests. And maybe the odd 'top of the mornin' to yer'.

Given my Mother In Law has read Beirut and responded with 'Fair play, Alexander,' no Irish person holds any fear for me. Lynch has passed muster with the heavyweights and we had a lot of fun with the whole thing. Mind you, if I'd been Joe O'Connor it would have been all 'Love the priest, Joe, ain't he gas?' and 'Great nun scene there, Joe. Don't ye love a nice nun?'

I noted I wasn't asked about my 'Hasn't Mary Got A Lovely Bottom' t-shirt...

Ah well, to be sure. A few remembered highlights, although there was a lot more in our conversation, including lots about my journey to publication, the state and nature of publishing in general and how publishers and Amazon respectively pay authors and that kind of thing...

Is Lynch's behaviour with Leila consistent with 'tradecraft'? 
Sure, did you ever see Lynch employing any conventional 'tradecraft' ever? He's a mess, a maverick product of the system gone irredeemably native. Lynch works because he understands the Middle East doesn't work, because he's more effectively hidden by being en clair than if he went around skuldugging.

Is he a rougher James Bond? 
No, he's the anti-Bond. He doesn't use gadgets beyond a memory key, he doesn't have Aston Martins, he uses servees shared taxis. He's not a loyal servant of the Crown, he's a dodgier proposition altogether. I guess that's why I like him.

How much research do you do? Like the Lebanese politics and the whizzbangs?
A whole load. You write from recollection, but you have to double check every recollected fact. In Olives, for instance, Paul remembers Joshua and the walls of Jericho as being from Joseph's Technicolour Dreamcoat. Now that was a flawed recollection and it would be valid for the character to have flawed recollection except it jars readers and they 'spot the mistake'. So you can't actually afford flawed recollection, someone, somewhere will have expertise in yachts (can the Arabian Princess really go from point a to point b in that time? Yes, I checked every sailing scrupulously for that very reason) or the Czech police (the cars are in their livery) or Oka warheads (they're real and yes, the Russians 'lost' about 180 of them) or how to kill a man with superb single grower extra brut champagne (I often check a bottle of Lamiable Extra Brut to ensure it hasn't lost its potency. No problem, I consider it a service to my readers).

Where did Gabe Lentini's 'castrato' voice come from?
My head. It just seemed fun to have a really burly tough guy speaking with Mickey Mouse's voice. It also helps to differentiate him as, as one club member pointed out, there is a quite stellar cast in Beirut and there are an awful lot of characters flying around at any given time.

Isn't Lynch rather, well, naíve at times?
He's certainly unconventional but I wouldn't call him naive. He sometimes takes the alternative road - the road less travelled - and it doesn't always work out for him. That's the problem with being a maverick. Most of the time, of course, it works brilliantly.

We wouldn't have read this if it hadn't been for Olives. It's outside our comfort zone.
A couple of members felt this, although most seemed not to. That's interesting, because Beirut seems to have attracted more female than male readers, which has surprised me. A couple of female reviewers have been clearly taken aback by the wanton violence and bad language in the book, but that's okay. I was taken aback writing it.

You kill an awful lot of people in this book...
Better out than in...

All your women have breasts.
Yup. Great, isn't it?

Is Michel Freij modelled on Saad Hariri?
Oh lord, no. He's mephistolean, that's all. He's modelled on a thousand over-privileged Lebanese sons of the terrible old men who have too much money and power. But on Hariri specifically or intentionally? Absolutely not.

Did I intend Beirut when I wrote Olives?
No. I had thought of an interlinear to Olives where I would take Paul to Beirut with Lynch looking after him and then manage the other side of Olives' story, Lynch's machinations. But then Beirut happened, mostly as a result of a dream that became the Hamburg scenes in the book and it took off from there. The Olives screenplay, titled When The Olives Weep which I've finished, tells more of that 'other story' than the book - necessarily, because of the way film works. At least, the way I think film works!

Are you doing another Lynch book?
I wouldn't say no, but my next project, whatever it is, won't be one. Maybe in the future. There's a Lynch short story out there somewhere, but I'll tell you about that later.

And so we went on into the night. I had a lovely evening and tried to answer every question or point as honestly and interestingly as I could. As usual, it's shocking how much people invest in a book, how much care they put into your work. And it's always so nice to be answerable to them. Honestly.
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1 comment:

Seumas Gallacher said...

great piece, Alexander ,,, cheers , that man :)

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